New Internet Users and Online Privacy Perceptions

Posted: 3 Apr 2012

See all articles by Nicol Turner-Lee

Nicol Turner-Lee

Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council

Date Written: March 31, 2012


Over the past two decades, the Internet has become a major platform for all Americans seeking to access relevant content, interact with family and friends, transact business, and improve quality of life through use of employment, educational and health care tools. Popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter now make sharing both our public and private lives easier than ever before. And, online retail stores from “big box” commercial establishments to small, online boutique stores allow us to shop from the privacy of our own home for all types of goods and services. But what happens to all of the information we provide to websites – our demographics, topics we search for, and products we consume? How is the need to simplify our lives often compromising the security of our personal information? How do less savvy Internet users, particularly minorities, seniors and youth, safeguard their personal information in the midst of new digitally stimulating experiences? These questions are at the core of our proposed paper.

Minority groups, particularly African Americans and Latinos when compared to whites are primarily “newcomers” to the web. According to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, African Americans and Latinos comprised a greater proportion of new Internet users when compared to the general population. With the culture of the Internet defining norms and practices that shape how to participate online, newcomers may be behind in learning how to generate and share content, use social networking sites, and find resources aimed at their own interests. New Internet users might not also understand how to be savvy in protecting themselves and their families from identity fraud, and other privacy breaches.

Today, our online interactions and transactions are being registered, saved and tracked by online data brokers that use data to improve targeted advertising to online consumers. These companies have created search engines that literally mine the Internet for information, attach this data to consumers, and make projections on future consumer purchases based on these online behaviors. This type of information tracking is no different than when a customer enrolls in a frequent buying club at a commercial establishment, or uses a customer savers card at the local grocery. Consumers’ enrollment in these programs gives permission to retailers to track their purchasing history, preferred products and services, and frequency of visits to that particular establishment. In turn, customers receive discounted coupons, buyer surveys and other forms of marketing collateral that essentially help industry improve their advertising and sales strategies.

From the surface, the use of data for the improvement of advertising and customer service seems harmless. In the offline world, however, individuals opt into these programs by willingly providing their email address or other personal information. In the online world, often consumers are not aware that their surfing preferences, purchasing patterns, and other peculiar behaviors are being recorded and stored by Internet cookies that exist on their personal computers and wireless devices.

This paper explores how minorities and low-income people define, understand and act upon online privacy concerns, and how these communities are impacted by online behavioral advertising. The author’s research will address the degree to which new Internet users, especially people of color, seniors and youth, are often subjected to online targeted advertising due to their lack of experience managing privacy controls and permissions. The authors will present a final paper that integrates both qualitative research as gathered through focus groups and one on one interviews, and secondary analyses of existing research to offer policy recommendations that strive to protect these populations from “bad online actors” that promote predatory targeted advertising.

Suggested Citation

Turner-Lee, Nicol, New Internet Users and Online Privacy Perceptions (March 31, 2012). Available at SSRN:

Nicol Turner-Lee (Contact Author)

Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council ( email )

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Washington, DC VA 20005
United States
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